Short version: a pricey but worthwhile back-country experience.
Booked two late-August nights at Shadow Lake Lodge. We hiked in on the popular Red Earth Creek trail—a moderate 14-km hike that took us roughly four hours including a brief stop for lunch (we are a fairly fit couple in our mid-50s). The first 10km or so runs along an old fire road—a pleasantly wide, smooth path with reasonably gradual grades. The scenery is pretty enough, but nothing spectacular. We hiked in on a drizzly day, though, so we were happy to take the easiest, most efficient route. The Arnica/Twin Lakes route (also 14km) would be a great alternative for energetic hikers in good weather—much more strenuous, but reportedly very scenic.
We arrived just in time for afternoon tea, served in the main lodge from 3-5pm each afternoon—a generous spread, and absolute heaven for we two damp and weary hikers.
A gourmet three-course dinner is served at 6:30, at tables seating 6-8 people (so, if you're travelling as a couple, be prepared to be sociable). Wine (roughly $40-$60, or $9/glass for house) and beer/cider ($8) are extra.
Breakfast (also quite decadent) is served at 8:30am, followed by an elaborate make-your-own lunch buffet to serve as provisions on your day hikes (there is a wide assortment of routes to choose from).
While at camp, you can choose to hang out in a communal lounge cabin, with a fireplace for cool days and an assortment of books and board games.
Our cabin was fairly rustic, and very cold when we arrived. A sign asked us to not adjust the heat ourselves—but, when we asked for help, a staff member merely nudged the thermostat slightly upward. After that we managed our own heat, thank you very much, keeping it slightly cool (to respect the challenge of bringing propane to such a remote location) and turning the thermostat way down whenever we left for the day. I'm sorry, but at these prices I'm not willing to freeze in my own room. The beds in our cabin were smallish but very comfortable (and some rooms come with larger beds).
The room was lit (rather dimly) with power supplied by solar panels. There were a couple of free outlets, making it possible to recharge cameras and other small electronics (though, this far out in the woods, there's obviously no cell coverage or wifi). In-room washing facilities consist of a pot and basin, with warm and cold running water available from a nearby outdoor tap. There are also communal washrooms (male and female) with (non-smelly) collection-tank toilets and single hot showers—be prepared to wait your turn if you're showering in the morning. I was lucky, and never had to wait more than a few minutes.
The lodge's name is slightly misleading—the stunningly gorgeous Shadow Lake is in fact a 20-minute hike away—but the lodge's alpine meadow setting is nonetheless quite lovely.
At the check-out table, a rather cheeky sign urges you to add a 10-per-cent gratuity "if you enjoyed your experience." Given the face-to-face process of checking out, the gratuity doesn't exactly feel optional. Two nights in Shadow Lake's cheapest room already represented (for us) an almost unconscionable splurge, so the extra $110 was a bit of an awkward surprise. I would prefer that Brewster's build appropriate staff compensation into its rates. That said, we were in no mood to shortchange our cheerful cooks/servers/hosts, so we ponied up.
Those expecting five-star luxury will be discouraged by Shadow Lake's somewhat rustic facilities, the understandable stinginess with precious resources (heat, electricity, water), and the strict "shoes off before entering" policy in the lodge, lounge, and cabins. To those of us accustomed to back-country backpacking and rough camping, however, Shadow Lake is sublime. Imagine coming off a damp day on the trail, and being greeted by hot tea, gourmet food, a dry bed, and a hot shower. The food was excellent and beyond plentiful. The staff was friendly and obliging, and the overall atmosphere was highly convivial, with fellow travellers from across North America and beyond.
Given the challenges of providing hospitality in such a remote back-country setting, Shadow Lake Lodge and its staff exceeded our expectations. Warmly recommended, assuming you can afford the prices.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Situated in the high alpine meadows of Banff National Park, Brewster's Shadow Lake Lodge is a remote back country lodge with private cabins, accessible only by hiking, cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Included in the rate are three mountain gourmet meals as well as afternoon tea served to you daily in our dining lodge. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Shadow Lake Hotel Banff
- Shadow Lake Lodge Banff, Alberta